Lady Merryweather has had a shocking year. Apprehended for the murder of her husband the year before, and only recently released, she hopes a trip away from London will allow her to grieve. The isolated, but much loved, Cragside Estate in North Northumberland, home of her friends, Lord and Lady Bradbury, holds special memories for her.
But, no sooner has she arrived than the body of one of the guests is found on the estate, and suspicion immediately turns on her. Perhaps, there are no friendships to be found here, after all.
Released, due to a lack of evidence, Lady Ella returns to Cragside only to discover a second murder has taken place in her absence, and one she can’t possibly have committed.
Quickly realising that these new murders must be related to that of her beloved husband, Lady Merryweather sets out to solve the crime, once and for all. But there are many who don’t want her to succeed, and as the number of murder victims increases, the possibility that she might well be the next victim, can’t be ignored.
Journey to the 1930s Cragside Estate, to a period house-party where no one is truly safe, and the estate is just as deadly as the people.
Rain thuds onto the black roof of the Rolls Royce Phantom, but that doesn’t concern me. No, my eyes are drawn to the flurry of activity taking place around the main door of Cragside house, despite the sheeting rain that makes everything appear elongated and out of focus. I can see little despite my best efforts.
What’s happened now? I want nothing more than to luxuriate in the Turkish bath complex with its beautiful blue tiles, soaking away the stink of the local police station at Rothbury, but that isn’t about to happen. Not if the bustle I’m witnessing is anything to go by.
Eagerly, not waiting for my chauffeur, Williams, to open the door, I swing it outwards, noticing how my sleeve darkens beneath the deluge, able to hear the hub of conversation as I skip over the gravel driveway. My red driving shoes are drenched between one heartbeat and the next. I can already feel the leather chaffing my cold feet. I hadn’t precisely been dressed for a cold and draughty police station when I was led away in handcuffs the night before.
Now I wear Williams’ overcoat over my sensible travelling clothes of a green skirt and thick stockings. My favourite blue coat and hat are still on the coat and hat stand. I was given no chance to put them on before being made to leave the house.
I’ve been gone for much of the day—darkness shadows even the brightest of the light pouring through the open doorway.
“My Lady,” a startled housemaid meets my gaze, bowing and curtseying all at the same time as we almost collide. I don’t get so much as the chance to ask what’s happened. She runs past me, a dark coat flung over thin shoulders, covering the smart black dress and white pinafore she wears. Her frightened eyes, hollowed by her short-cropped hair and pale face, reinforce my belief something is badly amiss.
Hastily, I stride into the sheltered stone alcove, grateful to be clear from most of the rain. I wince as I step into a puddle that hadn’t been there on my arrival the day before, cresting the flat and wide stone steps. Above my head, the weight of the house, cast almost into darkness, is telling. Chill water from the puddle slips over wet shoes and onto my cold skin. The rain is streaming at an angle, able to sneak into the stone alcove, whereas normally, it would do no such thing.
Bright lights welcome me into the house, for all the large double wooden doors hang entirely open, the trickle of flowing water attesting to the direction of the biting north wind even through my borrowed overcoat. I don’t want to consider the state of my hair, and I’m not even a vain woman.
I can see into the far reaches of the well-appointed property from my location. And there, the activity comes to an abrupt stop. There’s no one inside, not even the efficient butler, Mr Underhill. I can hear no noise from the kitchen. No noise from the dining room. Nothing at all. Can the upright Mr Underhill be out in the rain? I hardly dare think he’ll risk getting his immaculately shined shoes muddied. And if he has, then it’s indeed some new catastrophe that’s befallen the inhabitants of Cragside.
So then, where are the remainder of the weekend guests? Where are those who’d been so keen to see me sent away, slim hands held cuffed before me as the police smirked at having caught the culprit so easily? I turn, the pull of the unknown too much to ignore. I wish there were a handy torch to light my path into the impenetrable dusk that beckons to me.
The rumble of another motorcar outside pulling onto the gravel-strewn drive with the distinctive crunch beneath the thin tyres is all I need to hear. I swivel. All thoughts about luxuriating in the Turkish bath complex are forgotten. I need to see. I have to know.
As I hope, the other motorcar has been brought alongside that of my Rolls Royce Phantom, Williams still inside and just about visible behind the rain-soaked windscreen. Now both vehicles’ thin, yellow beams attempt to drive back the mizzle and the gloom. I’ve experienced rain like this before on very few occasions. Williams warned me when I mentioned our destination was the far North-East of England in November, but well, I didn’t believe it could be so torrential.
I step outside once more, pulling the hood of Williams thick woollen coat over my head, wishing for an umbrella. I meet Williams’ eyes through the fogged-up interior of the car. I incline my head questioningly, but he shakes his. I’m not the only one to be unaware of what’s happening.
Carefully, wary of the deep ravine that lies below me if I take a wrong step, I make my way to where the beams of the two vehicles are being directed. There are yellowed glimmers from small torches, and an amber glow spills from the curtains of the study and the staircase. Still, it isn’t enough to truly see the focus of everyone’s attention. I consider the time. It can only be just after 4 pm. The blackness of the storm shocks me.